ON THIS DAY    2 June      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1979: Millions cheer as the Pope comes home

The Pope has returned home to Poland as the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit a Communist-ruled country.

As John Paul II set foot on his native soil, at Okecie military airport, he fell on his knees and kissed the ground.

He was greeted by the Polish head of state, Henryk Jablonski, and Polish Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.

The Pope was then driven into Warsaw in an open top car past around two million people who cheered: "Long live our Pope".

He was greeted by a further 250, 000 people as he entered Victory Square for an open air Mass.

Religious motives

Many wept as the Pope walked up to the altar and stood with open arms before a 30ft cross which was draped in red stoles.

In an exchange of speeches with Mr Jablonski, he said his visit was dictated by strictly religious motives.

The Pope stressed that he hoped his trip would help the "internal unity of my fellow countrymen and also a further favourable development of relations between the state and the church in my beloved motherland."

"I have kissed the ground of Poland on which I grew up, the land from which, through the inscrutable design of providence, God called me to the chair of Peter in Rome, the land from which I am coming today as a pilgrim," he added.

During the 15-minute speech he also talked about the the sufferings of Poland during the WW II.

"We have every respect for and we are grateful for every bit of help that we have received from others at this time, while we think with sadness of the disappointments that we were not spared."

In a departure from his prepared text, the Pope also referred to a banner he had seen held up by a group of visiting Czechoslovak Catholics which read: "Remember, father, your Czech children."

He said it was good that he had seen the banner and he would not forget them.

His return marks the start of an official nine-day visit which is widely expected to have a major impact on church-state relations and Eastern Europe.

During his trip he will visit Czestochowa in southern Poland, site of the Jasna Gora sanctuary and home of the famous Black Madonna Byzantine icon.

In Context
The Pope's visit was seen as inspirational to many Catholics in Poland who felt they were no longer alone.

Many were deeply opposed to the country's Communist government.

The Pope, who secretly began religious studies in 1942 during the Nazi occupation of Poland, was often regarded as playing an extremely important role in bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe.

He returned to his native Poland in 2002.

The visit was widely viewed as a farewell to the Catholic community closest to his heart.

The Pope died on Saturday 2 April 2005 after he failed to recover from a throat operation.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |